Experience has taught us that if we want to know more about a destination, always talk to the locals. Therefore, this article features five different local encounters we had while cycling in Leogang. Those encounters gave us insight into this year-round Alpine destination in SalzburgerLand, southwestern Austria that deserves attention.

 

We don’t always have the luxury of time when we travel. This is why we seek out meaningful interactions, no matter how brief, with locals. Those encounters often create some of our most memorable travel experiences.

 

Visiting Leogang, Austria

If skiing or downhill mountain biking is not your thing, you can be forgiven for thinking of Saalfelden Leogang as an ‘off-the-beaten’ track destination.

View of mountain from gondola Asitz Mountain, Leogang, Austria

Located in the Austrian state of SalzburgerLand, the towns of Saalfelden and Leogang are nestled within the Saalach Tal and Leoganger Tal valley. Surrounded by soaring limestone peaks, lush green meadows, natural lakes and unspoilt forests, you’ll be rewarded with incredible natural beauty should you visit at any time of the year.

There isn’t much to say about Leogang’s town centre. Highlights include cobblestone streets, a large barn, a few shops and a church. You’ll have to visit in winter for the aprés ski vibe.

Eulanda looking at mountains in Saalfelden Leogang, Salzburgerland, Austria

However, the real attractions of Saalfelden Leogang are the natural environment, culture and people. Therefore, after settling down at our accommodation at Hotel Forsthofgut, we set off on a culinary cycling tour to experience them.

It didn’t take long before we had our first local encounter…

 

Cycling in Leogang with a Local

Like other Alpine destinations, in the summer, Saalfelden Leogang transforms itself from a ski resort into a paradise for outdoor adventurers.

Couple cycling in Leogang, Salzburgerland, Austria

Cycling in Leogang is a huge part of the outdoor culture. To emphasise how huge it is, the region will host the MTB Downhill World Championships in 2020.

The growing trend of electric-powered bicycles offers the chance for ‘mere mortals’ like us to also explore Saalfelden Leogang on two wheels but at a more leisurely pace.

Our first local encounter was at the Elements Outdoor Sports Bike School where two e-bikes had been prearranged for us. There we met Sabine Enzinger, an experienced cycling instructor and tour guide, who welcomed us with a warm smile.

“Have you ever ridden e-bikes before?” she asked.

We don’t consider ourselves experienced cyclists by any stretch of the imagination.

Cycling in Leogang with Sabine Enzinger | Elements Outdoor Sports | Leogang, Austria

“Not to worry,” she reassured us. “You’ll be fine. Come with me,” she said as she led us to the Riders Playground (a section of the bike park designed for beginners) for a quick e-bike handling and safety lesson.

At the park, Sabine, a downhill biker herself, was clearly in her element. She explained that as soon as the snow melts, adrenalin-fuelled mountain bikers, downhillers and freeriders flock to the EPIC Bikepark Leogang to test their skills.

Our e-bikes were fitted for rugged terrain and complemented our untrained cycling muscles with the extra boost they provided.

During practice runs, we were easily outshone by 5-year olds decked in full mountain biking gear who had probably been riding as soon as they could walk. After a few wobbles, Sabine soon concluded that we were safe enough to ride.

“This is going to be an exciting tour,” Sabine laughed as she beckoned us to ride behind her.

Flat signposted cycling paths quickly veered uphill… the first major test for us novices! However, after a few stops and starts, we found some rhythm and began the culinary cycling tour.

 

The Organic Cafe Owner

Eva Rainer in Dorfladen presenting organic food cafe in Leogang, Austria

Dorfladen, a local cafe was open when we pulled up. Locals and visitors come here to buy organic produce sourced from the many farms around Saalfelden Leogang.

Saalfelden Leogang is historically an agricultural community with up to 70% being organic farmers. Here, growers and producers focus on quality over quantity. We discussed this farming philosophy with Eva Rainer who runs Dorflanden with her husband Alexander.

“Our organic farming is not driven by large corporations. It is driven by passion,” Eva said, as she placed a colourful selection of home-made bread, cold meats, cheeses, and vegetables on the table and settled down for a chat.

Speaking with Eva Rainer in Dorfladen organic food cafe in Leogang, Austria

Eva and her family are themselves farmers and only recently added Dorfladen to their operation. Their vision is simple – to promote organic food and showcase culinary specialities from the region. “Supporting local farmers is at the heart of what we do,” she added.

Eva was an open book and we chatted like old friends (with Sabine helping to translate). Conversation flowed naturally as we talked about everything from organic farming to family, smartphones and local meal traditions.

Inevitably, the conversation veered towards European politics. “So many problems can be solved if only people can gather together around a table, share a good meal and talk to each other,” Eva wisely concluded.

We all agreed as we thanked Eva and set off again.

 

The Organic Farmer

Michaela Haitzmann | Biohof Stechaubauer | Organic Farmers | Cycling in Leogang, Austria

Leaving the organic shop, we cycled west and soon found ourselves surrounded by farmland and mountains in every direction.

Riding ahead of us, Sabine recognised two solitary figures walking towards a farm building. She turned back to us and said, “Follow me. I want to show you something!”

We rode in tandem towards the farm and soon caught up with a woman and girl. With nods and smiles, we exchanged pleasantries. Sabine had a quick word with the lady, Michaela. It was outside visiting hours but she was kind enough to let us have a quick look around her farm.

Michaela Haitzmann | Biohof Stechaubauer | Organic Farmers | Cycling in Leogang, Austria

Martin and Michaela Haitzmann run Biohof Stechaubauer, a family-owned 100% organic farm in Saalfelden. Michaela, our impromptu hostess, only had time for a very quick chat.

“We practice a circular economy,” she said. “Our livestock gives us valuable fertilizer for our fields and greenhouses and our animals get the best feed in return.”

Before saying goodbye, Michaela waved us towards a greenhouse and reminded us to visit their very innovative organic produce self-service kiosk on our way out.

Greenhouse on organic farm in Saalfelden Leogang

We had earlier read about the SalzburgerLand ‘Via Culinaria’, a gastronomy guidebook which combines tourism and food in a unique way.

With over 300 farms, growers, producers and artisans across SalzburgerLand listed, gastronomes can choose from a number of specialised ‘culinary pathways’. A ‘Gourmet Culinary Pathway’, for example, showcases over 30 of the best chefs and kitchens in the region.

In 2017, a ‘culinary pathway for organic farms’ was added to the Via Culinaria project, offering visitors a chance to learn about the innovative, eco-friendly and sustainable farming practices in the region.

Couple cycling in Leogang, Salzburgerland, Austria

Although not an official Via Culinaria experience, our brief encounter at Biohof Stechaubauer provided some insight into the philosophy and culture of organic farming in Saalfelden Leogang.

 

The Bow Maker

Kurt Schossleitner in Schosi 3D shop, Leogang Austria

Unlike cycling in built-up cities with multiple and unpredictable dangers to avoid, the biggest challenge while cycling in Leogang seemed to be avoiding free-range chickens crossing the road.

Sabine, aware that we were not experienced mountain bikers, wisely kept the tour in flat valley terrain.

With nothing but the incredible landscape company, we had time to reminisce on an unusual encounter from the day before. We had hiked through forests and up to Riedlalm, an idyllic Alpine hut at 1,228m.

While hiking between mountain huts, we unexpectedly came across a bowhunting trail made up of wood carved animals. Our guide had mentioned that simulated bowhunting is a popular activity in Leogang. Thankfully, no live animals are harmed and the entire sport is regulated.

Bowhunting practice in Saalfelden Leogang | Summer in Austria

Following the trail of carved figures, we eventually arrived at a hut where we met a weathered and friendly older man polishing bows. Kurt Schossleitner is the manager of Schosi 3D, a simulated bowhunting course and archery school.

We took up Kurt’s offer of a free target practice session. While we aimed at wooden targets, he explained how archery strengthens concentration, circulation, and muscles.

Bows inside archery shop Schosi 3D with Kurt Schossleitner

There were no prizes to be won and so after a few rounds, our attention quickly turned to the real story of this encounter, Kurt’s craftsmanship. Showing off his selection of beautifully carved bows and arrows, Kurt explained his wood carving process.

“It takes a lot of patience,” he concluded with a smile, “but something beautiful always comes out at the end.”

Like archery, woodcarving requires patience and sticking with a process with the expectation of reaping rewards. This brief encounter had reminded us of an important life lesson.

 

The Bar ‘Pharmacist’

Barman making cocktails at The Botanist | Nature Hotel Forsthofgut | naturhotel Forsthofgut | Leogang

The e-bikes still had enough juice after 4 hours to take us back into town where the culinary cycling tour ended.

Although we felt rejuvenated and pumped from the entire experience, we needed some spa time to wind down and recuperate after hours of cycling.

Hotel Forsthofgut is home to the award-winning waldSPA, Europe’s first forest spa. This unique spa concept showcases the hotel’s philosophy of preserving harmony with the natural environment.

Room with balcony view at Nature Hotel Forsthofgut | naturhotel Forsthofgut | Leogang

Spa session finished, we settled down at The Botanist for pre-dinner cocktails and struck up a conversation with the friendly barman.

Keen to show us something local, he introduced us to a local brand of Gentian (Enzian) schnapps and offered to create something special.

The Botanist | Nature Hotel Forsthofgut | naturhotel Forsthofgut | Leogang

Like a pharmacist, he explained the provenance of Gentian (a root local to the Alps) and talked about other herb-infused (e.g., juniper, pine, basil) cocktail creations.

That theme we had picked up earlier on our culinary cycling tour – about the symbiotic relationship between the locals and their natural environment – was on display here again.

 

Saalfelden Leogang through local encounters

As we polished off our cocktails, we reflected on our encounters. Each one had taught us something unique: about the local culture, about the natural environment and about Saalfelden Leogang.

We were reminded that food crosses boundaries. Our experiences reminded us that we are all human with similar hopes and dreams. We came away with even more appreciation for our natural environment as well as a desire to live more sustainably in order to preserve it.

We may never remember the brand name of the e-bikes we used or the routes we cycled. However, we will always remember the local encounters we had and what we took away from them.

When you meet locals on your travels what stories do you hear? What impressions do you take away with you?

View of mountains from Nature Hotel Forsthofgut | naturhotel Forsthofgut | Leogang, Austria

Disclosure: Our trip was organised by Saalfelden Leogang Touristik GmbH. We received complimentary hotel accommodation, meals, and activities during our stay. However, all photos and opinions expressed are our own.

 

Travel information

Getting there: Fly into Salzburg airport. Drive to Saalfelden Leogang (70km) or ride the tourist shuttle bus (€44 per person).

Where to stay: Hotel Forsthofgut is offering a 5% bonus on autumn stays if you book four weeks prior to arrival. This offer is valid from September 15 to November 30, 2019.

Save money: Use the Saalfelden Leogang Card (free for tourists) to gain access to buses, cable cars, guided hikes, museums and other selected activities.

Cycling in Leogang: Visit Elements Outdoor Sports Bike School for a bike fitting and e-bike rentals. Special packages and services are also available from specialised ‘Bike Hotels’.

 

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Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).